60-Second Science

Sperm Serves As Movement Model

Medical researchers hope to someday send nanobots, extraordinarily tiny robots, right to diseased cells. And they're looking at sperm as models of how to power the nanobots. Cynthia Graber reports.

Scientists hope to build nanoscale robots to deliver medicine to specific sites in our bodies. But supplying energy to the nanobots so that they can carry out these tasks is one of the stumbling blocks in developing the technology.  So researchers have turned to sperm.  Tiny sperm need plenty of energy to swim their way to their target.  And Alex Travis at Cornell University is trying to take advantage of what sperm do naturally for use in nanobots.

Sperm have two methods of creating energy.  Their mitochondria generate chemical energy.  But they can also break down glucose.  That process requires ten enzymes that attach to a sheath running down the sperm’s tail.  Travis and his team are trying to recreate that enzymatic process.  They’re developing enzymes that bind to nickel ions on a chip instead of to sperm.  So far, they’ve managed to attach three of the ten enzymes necessary.  And they’ve shown that the chip enzymes can act in a series.  If they can attach all ten, the nanobots could potentially use glucose in blood to swim their way to diseased cells.

--Cynthia Graber

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